State's Best Clash In Snowflake

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First place in the East region, a No. 1 state ranking, and an unbeaten record are on the line tonight (Friday) when the Payson Longhorns and the Snowflake Lobos collide.

With all that at stake, most eyes in the 3A conference will be focused on the gridiron clash.

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Much of the football practice time at Payson High this week was spent on defending the pass. Tonight's opponent, Snowflake, is expected to crank up an aerial attack that could test the mettle of the Longhorn pass defense. At Tuesday afternoon's practice session, receiver Mark McRae hauled in a pass over the efforts of defender John Cronin. Game time in Snowflake is 6:30 p.m.

Because the contest is the Lobos' homecoming, kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. rather than the traditional 7 p.m.

Both teams enter the East regional opener with 4-0 records and lofty state rankings.

Snowflake is rated No. 1 in the 3A conference in at least two statewide polls. Payson is ranked second in those same polls.

On the White Mountain Football website, Payson is top-ranked and Snowflake is second.

In the power points rankings that are used to seed teams into the season-ending state tournament, Snowflake is on top of the standings with 62.5 points. Payson is second with 58.33.

Since the teams have not met a common opponent this season, comparisons are tough to make.

Although Snowflake sports a longtime tradition of football excellence, the showdown is considered a toss up in most gridiron circles.

The one certainty in the drama of this evening is that the winner will have the inside track at the region championship and a No. 1 seed into the state tournament.

Defending state champion Blue Ridge cannot be ruled out as a championship contender, but after the Yellow Jackets stunning 14-0 loss to Winslow Friday and two forfeits it had to give up for using an ineligible player, Blue Ridge suddenly doesn't appear as invincible as it once was.

Prior to the loss to Winslow, the Yellow Jackets had won 26 consecutive games and back-to-back state titles.

If the Horns have a weapon to use against Snowflake that has proven unstoppable all season, it's running back Waylon Pettet.

The senior speedster has rushed for 641 yards on 60 carries for a 10.4 yards-per-carry average.

In Snowflake, you can bet the family ranch that the Lobo coaching staff has spent the practice week trying to figure out a way to stop Pettet on the sweep and counter plays.

Defensively, coach Jimbo Armstrong has toyed with a 5-3 defense look much of the year. If he maintains that type of defense, Snowflake will probably try to out-man the Horns by running power plays at the defensive tackles. Double teams, kick-out blocks and lead blockers could be the key to any success the Lobos enjoy. Individually, linebacker Layton Howell leads the bandit charge with 22 tackles and two blocked punts.

Pettet also has turned in a solid defensive performance, chalking up 20 tackles and three interceptions while playing mostly at safety.

Pettet started the season at corner, but was quickly moved to safety by d-backs' coach Mike Loutzenheiser.

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